Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Claire of the Sea Light," by Edwidge Danticat

I still remember how I was struck by the beauty and sadness of Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat’s first book, “Breath, Eyes, Memory.” I have read some but not all of her books (mostly fiction) since. I heard the word “fable” used in reviews and blurbs of her new novel, “Claire of the Sea Light” (Knopf, 2013), and almost didn’t read it because of that, but I did read it and am glad I did. I can see why the word “fable” is used, but the events of the story seem very real. The story takes place in a small town by the sea in Haiti. Claire, whose mother died when she was born, and whose father loves her dearly but needs to move away to make a better living, is about to be given into the care of Gaelle, a more prosperous neighbor with her own part in Claire's family history. Suddenly, when everyone is distracted with the death of a fisherman friend of Claire's father, she disappears. After this initial story, the novel goes back in time and traces the history of several of the main characters, residents of the town (and occasionally of elsewhere). Several secrets are revealed along the way. The story has a certain dreaminess, but there is also brutal violence, poverty and hopelessness. Yet somehow the message that comes through has to do with the power of love, and of humankind’s basic goodness.

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